LONDON: In a crucial discovery of interest to historians, a tightly folded scrap of paper containing a key encrypted message during India's first war of independence in 1857 has been discovered at the Harewood House in Leeds.
Considered one of the smallest but most remarkable records of the era, the scrap of blue paper measures six by five centimeters and contains Greek and English characters. It contains an encrypted message that was smuggled out of Lucknow.
Written on the September 1 1857, Brigadier John Inglis described conditions in the town that had been under siege since 30 June that year. The note was folded and tightly rolled to ensure its concealment.
In his message, Inglis sends information vital to the British relieving force. The information was considered sensitive and would have had devastating effect on the course of events if it had fallen into the wrong hands.
Inglis wrote in the encrypted message, "I have reduced the rations and with this arrangement I trust to be able to hold on from the twentieth to twenty fifth". The British relief force arrived in Lucknow on 25 September.
The discovery was made last week during work on the year-long National Cataloguing project at the West Yorkshire Archive Service to list the family and estate archive of the Earls of Harewood.
The Harewood Estate Archive includes a significant body of records relating to India. Charles Canning was the Governor General at the time of the 1857 rebellion, and his nephew Lord Dunkellin, travelled to India as his Military Secretary.
The note was discovered as part of the 'Letters to Dunkellin concerning Indian affairs'.
Work continues to make over 10,000 items of correspondence sent to Canning in India fully searchable online with the assistance of volunteers from the Families in British India Society (FIBIS).
Graham Hebblethwaite, chief officer of West Yorkshire Joint Services, said, "The discovery of this rare and fascinating document shows just how wide-ranging the Harewood Family and Estate Archive is. By Spring 2010, for the first time, anyone interested in this important collection will have online access to a comprehensive catalogue of records that are of great local, national and international significance."
Councillor Neil Taggart, chair of the West Yorkshire Joint Services Committee, said, "This exciting find emphasises the importance of the work being carried out over the duration of this project. This miniature document may yet have remained undiscovered, but now audiences both near and far will have far easier access to this and the treasures that the Harewood Estate Archive holds."